“Still, I know of no higher fortitude than than stubbornness in the face of overwhelming odds.”
– Louis Nizer
Being sick at home makes you think and I’ve been thinking a lot about my friends recently. All of them are spectacular and, on the surface, fantastically together. But the truth is this glittering sheen can be a facade and beneath the great hair, fabulous clothes, and scarily sharp brain, there lurks the occasional demon. I have friends in bad marriages, friends with eating disorders, friends with crippling depression, friends with addictions…and I stay almost entirely out of their problems.
Let me be clear. I care very deeply for my friends, many of them are surrogate family members to me, my parents, and siblings. All of them are men and women of extraordinary ability, skill, depth, and intelligence and I am supremely lucky to have them in my life. I often feel like the odd man out (being neither a genius nor an prodigy and not extremely talented at any one thing) and wonder if I would have any connection with the galaxy of brightly burning individuals I’m privileged to call friends if not for my three only remarkable attributes: my sense of humor, my loyalty, and my tenacity of will. Not to say pigheadedness. All I have is irony and words.
So how then do I justify staying out of their dark, sometimes life threatening situations? I ask this of myself a great deal, but the answer I always come back to is that I, C. Small Dog, have not the smallest right to interfere.
First of all, I often don’t know how to help. I am not a therapist, dietitian, police officer, parent, court of law, or psychiatrist. And my life experience (if not my job!) has taught me that good intentioned idiots can often cause just as much or more damage than badly intentioned masterminds.
Secondly, I have limited experience with many of the trials my mates are going through. I came close to an eating disorder once a couple of years ago but I was able to 1) recognize it and 2) order it off the premises before things got bad. I’ve never been in a traumatic car accident and required years of surgery to recover, I’ve never had a miscarriage after several rounds of in vitro fertilization. I have never contemplated suicide. I have experienced depression vicariously through a family member and have seen the overwhelming darkness it smothers everything else with, and I know that I have probably inherited a predisposition to it. Indeed I also came close to falling off the edge into the blackness at one point in my life…but again, I was able to decide not to. After a major internal struggle, I might add.
Not everyone can decide that. All the willpower in the world can’t dispel some problems, choice is sometimes just not available.
This is difficult for someone like me to process. I believe, bulldoggishly, in free will and choice. I literally cannot comprehend a situation where my ability to choose has been taken away from me, thus I am utterly ill-equipped to advise friends in the grip of hormonal imbalances, psychological struggles, and medical challenges. I’m very much from the tough love school of friend therapy, which anyone could tell you is often the worst possible thing someone could do. Occasionally, though, it’s the best. You don’t come to me for sympathy (because I’m bad at it), you come to me for action.
And that is how I justify my position. My brand of help isn’t always required. And when it isn’t, I stand by a silent witness to their struggles, reaching out when they reach for me and backing off when they snap that they are fine. I will make no commentary, pass no judgment, and tell no one of what they are going through. I do not feel entitled to intrude on what is often a deeply private pain without an invitation.
But once invited in, you will not get rid of me without ordering me out. I will camp on your floor to make sure you eat, drive to your house at two in the morning to take the bottle out of your hand and dump whatever is left down the sink, or wrap my arms around you to keep you from hurting yourself. And I won’t let go. Because that’s what I have to offer: stubbornness.